Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

8

A Month of Diplomacy

The president spent all of the morning of his last day at Paris, February 14, at the Crillon. He gave the American commission the draft of the Covenant, about which they had been told little. Wilson stipulated that the entire Covenant must be included in the peace treaty with not one word revised. However, Secretary Lansing, eager to negotiate a preliminary treaty that would end the state of war, was certain that the Covenant would have to be amended 1. and that no American at Paris would dare to undertake this task in Wilson's absence. The secretary of state had surmised, three weeks before, that the French and Italian statesmen were hoping to avert American opposition to their claims by falling in with the plan for a league of nations. While the president was away, they could be expected to press their national causes. 2. Wilson, however, suspecting that the French had been deliberately delaying the work of various commissions in anticipation of his departure, said to his family: "I'll fool them, for I am going to come back here." 3. It seemed clear that the final drafting of a treaty would have to await Wilson's return.

On the eve of his departure the president told the Supreme Council that he did not want the essential and urgent work of the peacemaking, including such questions as those of territorial boundaries and reparations, to stop while he was away. He expressed confidence in his military advisers, and said that he had asked House to join Lansing in the Council of Ten. In Wilson's view the colonel had proved to be of inestimable value in reporting on both public opinion and the actual ideas of important men. However, the president was less appreciative of House's ability as a negotiator of necessary compromises and of his role in contacts with the press. 4.

Wilson talked with House alone for half an hour before they parted. When the colonel outlined a vigorous program of negotiations that he wished to follow during his chief's absence, the president took alarm. House, watching Wilson's face intently, realized that he had presumed too far. He was quick to explain that he did not contemplate final action, but merely discussions that would make it possible for the president to bring matters to a conclusion when he returned to Paris.

____________________
1.
Lansing supplementary diary, entry of February 14, 1919. Lansing to Edward N. Smith, February 19, 1919, Lansing papers, box 111, f. VII, Princeton University Library.
2.
Lansing to Polk, January 25, 1919, Y.H.C. Lansing, The Peace Negotiations, pp. 136-137.
3.
Alden Hatch, Edith Bolling Wilson, p. 154. E. B. Wilson, My Memoir, pp. 236-237.
4.
F.R., P.P.C., vol. 3, p. 104. "At one point Mr. Wilson considered asking Mr. Lansing to resign. ... Colonel House had worked staunchly for the League, and Mr. Lansing had not," E. B. Wilson, p. 237.

An instance of House's influence on the president's public relations is recorded in his diary under February 14: "The newspaper men sent in a request for a five-minute interview with the president. He wished to put them off ... but I suggested that he see them at once and get it off his mind.... He consented reluctantly and then, to my astonishment, went into the other room and talked to fifteen or twenty American correspondents for nearly an hour—all of them standing. He spoke in the pleasantest and frankest way to them ... he did not want to see them, and yet when he got to talking, he was so enthused with what he had to say that it looked as if he would never stop."

-145-

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